BY MATT GREENFIELD
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Greetings and salutations to all of you rabid and raucous Maximum Rocknroll readers out there across the world. My name is Matt and I am from a very special region of the United States known as the “Rust Belt”. You may be familiar with some of our cities, along with their rich cultural and musical histories. I am talking about such cities as Buffalo, New York, Detroit, Michigan, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Akron, Chicago, Illinois, and also my hometown of Youngstown, Ohio.
The common thread to these cities is not just geographical, it’s economic as well. Meaning, well, that all of these places have experienced hard times. These cities used to be part of something called the “Factory Belt,” but most of the industries have packed up shop, heading for Mexico, or places where cheap labor can be found. American jobs quickly starting vanishing and crime rates rose. A new generation was left hopeless. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but they also call for art and rebellion.
Quite frankly, Northeast Ohio has character and grit. We are the underdogs.. Most of the original punks grew up watching Ghoulardi host horror movies on Cleveland television channel, WJW. He definitely contributed to our long lineage of quirky weirdness. In this article I am going to focus on the music of Ohio. Some of the bands you know, but many you won’t.
Electric Eels are an amazing proto-punk band with the classic anthem, “Agitated.” Every rock n roll fan should have that one memorized. They played around Cleveland from 1972 ‘til 1975 – with little to no fanfare – but are now legendary. Pere Ubu and Rocket From The Tombs came next. They started destroying Cleveland during the 1974-1975 period. Things really blew up for Rocket From The Tombs when they moved to New York City and became The Dead Boys. Stiv Bators, a punk rock icon, got a lot of his snotty swagger from Electric Eels. Devo started out in the early ’70s, while residents of Akron and Kent, Ohio, but released their first album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, in 1978. Lux Interior grew up in Stow, Ohio. After meeting partner/bandmate, Poison Ivy, out in California, they briefly decided to move The Cramps to Akron, Ohio before a transition towards New York City.
Necros and Toxic Reasons, while from Western Ohio, definitely contributed to the burgeoning hardcore sounds of the nation. Sacred Hate from Youngstown are unsung heroes of the genre who still have an unreleased second album from around 1989. Someone please fucking release this! I promise that it’s a masterpiece which sounds like Christ on Parade meets Die Kreruzen, sprinkled with Christian Death, Most hardcore fans have “IQ32” in their record collection, whether an original, repress, or just the mp3s. Back to Cleveland though. As for ’80s hardcore, The Guns are as good as anyone, and recently had all of their material released on a double vinyl on Smog Veil Records. They played around Cleveland from ’82 until ’87. One of their drummers, Sean Saleyquit, moved to D.C. and joined Dischord heroes, Government Issue. David Arca played in False Hope, while Scott Eakin went on to form Stepsister, a band that Tony Erba of Face Value and 9 Shocks Terror played in.
I will probably forget a bunch of bands from the ’70s and ’80s because Northeast, Ohio has such a lush history when in comes to this stuff but t would be a sin not to mention The Pagans contributions. They are a hugely influential band and were active from 1977 ‘til 1979, briefly reforming a few other times. The Pagans are kings of self-destructive punk songs.. For all the young ones reading this, check out the track “What’s This Shit Called Love.”
The Pagans are also featured on the essential 1982 compilation album Cleveland Confidential, but equally important songs on this album come from bands people may not have heard of. Killed By Death alumni,The Defnics, do the song “Suicide Trip,” which has the eerie ambiance of death surrounding the brooding melody. Menthol Wars, a band featuring the artist Robert Longo, does the song“Even Lower Manhattan,” kicking out, primitive, pulsating, rock ‘n’ roll beats. Longo would go on to do art for R.E.M., New Order, and many others.
Let’s fast forward to my awakening now. I feel a certain privilege to have grown up in Northeast Ohio. Along with the agony of bleak landscapes filled with vacant dreams and scarce employment, is a diamond in the rough. This little diamond is the Cleveland hardcore scene. It’s the material that myths are made from. People from far away lands know of the mayhem through folklore, but have rarely seen it first hand.
One of the first bands from the area that I got into was Akron’s finest, Don Austin. They had a few seven inch vinyls circulating around, including one on Gloom Records, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on all of them. Don Austin was fierce and fast. The vocals seemed like what you would scream at your opponent before or during a street brawl. These guys reminded me a lot of the pummeling kings of Detroit, Negative Approach.. Lucky for me, this was just the beginning.
I used to order records from Havoc, and heard about a mysterious new band from Cleveland. This band is 9 Shocks Terror. Pandora’s Box was now open wide. Mobile Terror Unit arrived in my mailbox like a stick of dynamite and nothing has been the same since. I had heard hardcore punk before but not like this. I had heard aggressive music before…but not like this. The music was kicking the shit out of me. I needed to chug two glasses of water before even flipping sides. Mean and nasty can’t even begin to describe the ugly sounds blaring out of my speakers. This was it for young me. Mobile Terror Unit expressed how I felt as an isolated teenager in Youngstown, Ohio. The lyrics were angry, non-linear and very cryptic. Soon, I discovered that they played shows in Cleveland quite frequently. I begged my father to drive me to their gigs. Over the years, I would have piss thrown on me during their performances, dodge firecrackers, bloody band members and bottle rockets in the pit. I would even avoid forty bottles, fists and flying couches. I saw people get booted from their shows for wild behavior and I saw people get concussions from antics gone awry. Something about the music incited violence and terror. All logical thoughts were tossed out the car window at seventy-five miles per hour. 9 Shocks Terror went on to release a string of 7 inches and two LPs. Every single record released by these lunatics is worth owning. There love for pro wrestling was also an added bonus.
It didn’t take me long to figure out the connection between H100s and 9 Shocks Terror. H100s sounded like a bratty mix of Lip Cream, The Germs, and Poison Idea. Not bad influences, right? They were fronted by Chris Erba, a man not afraid to throw a punch, who went on to do Upstab and Avon Ladies. The backing band was basically the guys who formed 9 Shocks Terror. I never got to see them live, but a few scattered videos can be found on YouTube. They are another band that is damn near flawless.
One Cleveland group always leads to another, so of course I found out about Cider, The Darvocets, and The Inmates. I saw Cider play in Youngstown and get into a confrontation with local knuckleheads at a hardcore fest. They played like not a single fuck was given. It was raw and organic material, the natural formation of Rust Belt punk rock. I witnessed The Inmates and Darvocets in a Cleveland bowling alley. I don’t think the owners of this sleepy neighborhood dive had a clue about the wreckage that was about to be revealed. I have never been so scared of bowling balls in my life. They were whizzing in every direction. The place honestly looked like a war zone and ended up totally trashed. I had the time of my life. Before long, I was tracking down these bands records. All of them are incestuous, as in they share members. The Darvocets would not be out of place on an old Killed By Death compilation, with their spastic rhythms and over the top vocals. The Inmates and Cider are uniquely Midwest in their approach to hardcore. Batches of these bands end up having a cohesive sound. The influences are foreign and domestic hardcore – wild, yet basic rock n roll, and obscure ’70s punk.
There are more bands that play this mutated brand of Cleveland hardcore which I would like to touch on in the future. Until then, seek out Hangnail, The Crunky Kids, Gag Reflex, Wolfdowners, Bombuilder, Schnauzer, Folded Shirt, Flying Trichecos, Bad Noids, Fuck You Pay Me, Confront, Puncture Wound and more. Check out my blog on the web at www.rustbelthammer.com for more writings and bands. Email your thoughts and threats to firstname.lastname@example.org -Matt AKA Bruce